Cholesterol is a fatty substance that your body uses in building cell membranes, nerve coverings, certain hormones, and vitamin D. It is found only in foods of animal origin, notably egg yolks and organ meats such as liver.


Although cholesterol has a bad reputation, it is necessary for good health. It's so important, in fact, that if you don't get any in your diet, your liver will manufacture it from other fats. (Most people manufacture many times more cholesterol each day than they eat. That's why high-fat foods that advertise "no cholesterol!" are misleading: it's the fat in your diet, not just the cholesterol, that raises your blood-cholesterol readings.)


Vital as it is to good health, cholesterol can be a killer. Eating too much over a period of years can deposit plaque on the inner walls of arteries and veins, shutting off blood flow and causing heart attacks or strokes. For this reason, many authorities recommend keeping your intake under 300 milligrams per day. (That's the amount in one and a half egg yolks, three ounces of beef liver, or eight tablespoons of butter.) In its September 2002 report on macronutrients, however, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) pointed out that people need no cholesterol in their diet and "any incremental increase in cholesterol intake increases coronary heart-disease risk."


Your Daily Allowance


Diet Power sets your Personal Daily Allowance (PDA) of cholesterol at the often-cited limit of 300 milligrams, discussed above.


Upper Limit


The FNB has not established a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for cholesterol, but remember the Board's observation (above) that any increase in intake raises heart-disease risk.


Revising Your Allowance


Since people don't really need to consume any cholesterol (see above), you might want to reset your PDA to a lower figure with the Personal Daily Allowance Editor. Ask your doctor.


Color Coding of This Nutrient


The cholesterol bar in your personal Nutrient History is:


   image\diet0036.gif blue for "good" if you've logged 100 percent or less of your PDA


   image\diet0037.gif red for "bad" if you've logged more than 100 percent of your PDA


   image\diet0038.gif missing if you've logged no cholesterol.


In the nutrient profile of a food or recipe, the cholesterol bar is:


   image\diet0039.gif green for "good" if getting your entire PDA of calories from this item would give you less than 50 percent of your PDA of cholesterol


   image\diet0040.gif magenta for "bad" if getting all your calories from the item would give you more than 150 percent of your PDA of cholesterol


   image\diet0036.gif blue for "neutral" otherwise


   image\diet0038.gif missing if the amount of cholesterol is either zero or (when the word Cholesterol is grayed out) unknown.

How Complete Are Diet Power's Cholesterol Readings?


For the 8500 generic items in the Food Dictionary: very complete. Only 0.3 percent list their cholesterol content as "unknown."


For the 2500 chain-restaurant items: very complete. Only 0.4 percent list cholesterol as "unknown."


For all 11,000 items combined: very complete. Only 0.3 percent list cholesterol as "unknown."


(The percentage of unknowns will be higher, of course, if most of the foods that you've added to the dictionary lack cholesterol figures.)


To see whether a particular food has a cholesterol reading, open the Food Dictionary and check the food's nutrient profile. If you find a question mark beside "Cholesterol," it means the amount is unknown. (To see all foods with unknown cholesterol readings, click the dictionary's PowerFoods tab and sort the foods by cholesterol power; then scroll toward the bottom of the list until you see foods with question marks in the "Power Rating" column.)


Cholesterol on Food Labels


Most food labels are required to cite cholesterol content, in both grams and percent of Daily Value. The Daily Value is 300 milligramsthe same as your Personal Daily Allowance (unless you've revised yours).


For more on label regulations, see Labels, Food.